A top-25 national ranking, a current six game winning streak, undefeated to start conference play and alone in first place. Not to mention, a potential conference MVP candidate shining bright & raising his teammates’ performance.
And yet, much of the talk about the #23 ranked San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team is the games they‘ve lost.
The sting of losses to nationally ranked Arkansas in Maui in overtime and to St. Mary’s in Arizona can still be felt. Or, more immediately, fans appear fixated on the poor play in the last four minutes of a game against league rival Nevada 74-65.
Never mind that the game was one SDSU completely dominated.
Ah, the burden of expectations.
SDSU started the season ranked in the top 25 in the AP poll. Today, they are ranked in the top 25 in the AP poll. MWC preseason polls placed the Aztecs as the team to beat. After four games, San Diego State sits alone atop the league standings at 4-0.
With the win over the previously unbeaten in Mountain West Conference play Wolf Pack, SDSU has won eight consecutive regular season MWC games. Not too bad for being in a conference where wins, especially on the road, are tough to secure.
The point? As fans, we might want to enjoy the good a little more.
And, there is plenty of good happening on Montezuma Mesa.
Matt Bradley has come alive in MWC play. The senior guard leads the league in scoring in conference games at 21.3 points per game. His effort reflects the experience and savvy of a veteran player growing comfortable with his role.
He has scored when called upon, rebounded when needed, and served as a facilitator to help others contribute. He’s even been adept at stepping in and drawing charge calls on the defensive end.
Bradley has been what the Aztecs require him to be in conference play—a leader.
Not to be outdone, Lamont Butler has turned in two outstanding scoring efforts in back-to-back games. The Moreno Valley native’s outside shooting and slashing drives to the bucket have led to 23 and 15 point outbursts in wins over Wyoming and Nevada, respectively.
Butler, a junior, continues to deliver a strong defensive presence nightly causing numerous deflections each game. In all, Butler has shown flashes recently of the player SDSU fans saw at the beginning of last season before a wrist injury set him back.
MWC play suits forward Jaedon LeDee nicely. The 6’9” forward from TCU has made huge contributions on both ends of the floor in the team’s recent unbeaten streak.
LeDee has returned to being a dominant force in the low post with 17 points and 15 rebounds in his last two games, making 6 of his 7 field goal attempts and going 5 for 5 on free throws.
The Lobos Come to Town
On Saturday, the Aztecs will face a New Mexico team that opened the season 14-0. The third longest overall win streak in program history.
A quick look at the MWC statistical leader boards highlight why New Mexico got off to a torrid start. The Lobos count the league leaders in scoring per game (Jamal Mashburn Jr.), rebounding (Josiah Allick), assists (Jaelen House), steals (House), and offensive rebounds (Allick) on its squad.
Mashburn’s play thus far has the transfer from Minnesota living up to expectations as a preseason all-conference selection. The 6’2” guard is scoring 17.9 a game for the season to lead the MWC (in all games).
His backcourt mate House leads the MWC in assists and steals. In addition, the Arizona State transfer guard adds more than 16 points on average each night.
New Mexico has successfully integrated two new transfer forwards in Allick (from Kansas City) and Morris Udeze (Wichita State). The two Lobos top the MWC rebounding category for the season.
In addition they both shoot a high percentage from the floor as well, with Udeze checking in at 60% for the season. The 6’8” 240 pounder will be a challenge for LeDee, Nathan Mensah and Aguek Arop in the paint.
Behind Mashburn, House and Udeze (16 ppg), New Mexico averages 82.6 points per game, highest in the MWC and 16th nationally. SDSU’s defense only allows teams to score 65.4 points per game on the season.
Both teams understand the magnitude of this game. A win gives SDSU a three game edge in the conference standings over New Mexico, extends a winning streak to seven straight overall and secures its place in the Top 25 rankings for another week.
For the visitors, a win over the Aztecs puts them right back in the conference title race and provides momentum for upcoming games against San Jose State and Boise State.
Expect both teams to be at their best Saturday evening at Viejas. Whichever team can play most often to its strength will likely come out victorious.
CBS Sports Network and San Diego Sports 760 have the coverage with tip set for 6:00 pm local time.